Can we choose to believe?

“Escaping from bullshit,” in one important sense, is an elliptical expression for “escaping from bullshit beliefs.” But if you believe something, it seems that you don’t recognize it as a bullshit belief. If you did, you wouldn’t believe it. So, let us assume that there may be among your many beliefs some bullshit beliefs. Why make this assumption? Because you recognize that others have beliefs which are incompatible with your beliefs, and incompatible beliefs can’t be both true; so, one of you has to have some bullshit beliefs. Is it you?

Most of the beliefs we have we inherited from our culture. Others we obtained through observation, hearsay, and authority. It comes from listening to people we encounter, news sources, magazines, television, and now the internet.

So, if someone asks you why you believe what you do, you may answer that you learned about it from Bill, or you heard it on the radio, or you read about it on the internet, or it is in your sacred book.

The response may be: “OK, I understand the source of your information, but how do you know that this information is true?”

And instead of offering a justification for their belief, people sometimes say: “I choose to believe it.” And it is sometimes said to others: “You shouldn’t believe this,” or “you shouldn’t believe him.”

The implication is that you can choose to believe or not to believe. But, is it possible to choose to believe or not to believe?

A very detailed and insightful essay on this topic was written by William P. Alston, with the esoteric title, “The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification” (1988).

Assume that you are convinced by Pascal’s Wager that it is better to believe that God exists (in other words, you want to believe that God exists), but you don’t believe that God exists.  Can you choose to believe that God exists?


Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life

I have taught courses in critical thinking under the guise of “logic” as well as under the guise of “introduction to philosophy.” One of the best textbooks on critical thinking was (and perhaps still is) Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life, by Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker.  I have the 2d edition. Searching the Internet, I found that there currently is an 12th edition [cost, about $190]. But more interesting is that someone in China has placed the 9th edition on the Internet as a pdf file. So, before the copy disappears for some reason or other, download it while you can.


In this post, I am recommending that you read Chapter 4: Credibility and Chapter 5: Persuasion Through Rhetoric. These two chapters could be called “Bullshitting (especially in the News and Advertising Media) by language, pictures, and movies.”

Does the United States have a bullshit constitution?

Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, 1921


Sanford Levinson, “Our Imbecilic Constitution,” The New York Times, May 28, 2012.

George Carlin: “I don’t vote”


Is Voting Bullshit?

George Carlin says that he does not vote because its a waste of time. His reason is that the public sucks (meaning that they are a bunch of ignorant, self-centered consumers), and since the politicians come from the public, they also suck (as self-centered opportunists). Well, he is right on both counts that the public sucks and that the politicians suck. And given the structure of government and the methods of voting, he is right in not wasting his time voting.

But his reasoning that publicly minded people do not want to enter the political arena is wrong. The reason is not that they don’t want to, but that they know that they cannot win; so they don’t try. In the US, we have a track record of seemingly good candidates entering the political arena and losing. There is the case of Eugene Debs who ran for president five times unsuccessfully. I remember Eugene McCarthy trying, Ralph Nader, as well as Ron Paul.

Why can’t such people win? Because elections are won through propaganda and advertising – through a control of the news media. Winning takes lots of money and the support of corporations which control the media, and they also have an influence on existing politicians who manipulate votes and voting. Stalin is quoted as saying: “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

The bottom line is that only those candidates who are rich and have the support of the rich win elections. And our political choices are between a rich Tweedle Dee and a rich Tweedle Dum.


Political Bullshit


The prevalent forms of government in the world are variously called representative democracy, parliamentary democracy, and liberal democracy. They come in different varieties. On the national level, it is either a unitary system — centralized or decentralized; or a federal system with states or cantons. They all rest on two major flaws or mistakes. The first is that they place executive powers in single individuals, such as a president, a prime minister, a governor, a mayor. The second flaw is that they elect them by mass democracy; whereby thousands or million people are voting for a candidate.

In this post I will be concerned with the first flaw — giving power to a single individual.

What I am writing about politics is not philosophy but practical advice. The advice is so common sensical that I am at a loss to understand why what I have to say is not followed by most people. The principle that I have in mind is:

Don’t let a wolf tend to the sheep.

Yet, when we put single individuals in charge of anything, we are inviting corruption. What do I mean by political corruption? I mean that the politician will take bribes and make threats. And how will he get away with it? If there is no surveillance, then it will be a matter of his word against his accuser. And the corrupt politician will win by the principle of innocent until proven guilty. And, of course, the attorney general or chief prosecutor is himself subject to corruption, to be dismissed or retained by a single individual – either a prime minister or a president, who himself is subject to corruption – and prosecuted either by impeachment, no-confidence vote, or non-election. And unless the official is too cocky, as was the governor of Illinois, Blagojevich, or too brazen, and too megalomaniacal, as was Yanukovich, President of Ukraine, politicians can get away with murder, as does the president of Russia, Putin.

Practically all democracies give executive power to a single individual — be he a monarch, president, or prime minister. Indeed, this is true also of all subordinate executive offices; such as that of a governor or a mayor, and that of other executive posts. To entrust executive posts to single individuals is a great mistake. Why? Because single individuals are prone to corruption. They can be bribed or threatened — and they often are.

By contrast, in the ancient Roman republic, this danger was known and safeguarded against by having two consuls and two or more tribunes, who had veto power over each other. In cases of national emergencies, power was granted to a single individual, and he was called a dictator.

Such a system of government with power residing in single individuals is very welcomed by the rich. Why? Because they are in a position to buy whatever they desire of the politician, or they can threaten such an individual, or even assassinate him or her for non-compliance.

What I have written above strikes me as truisms, as common sense. In recent years, this truism was given some empirical backing by the writings and speeches of John Perkins, in his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. He recounts in detail that his job was to first bribe heads of state to foster some policies favorable to some business or other; and if the bribe did not work, then they were threatened with losing the next election, threatened with a coup, an assassination, or, finally, a military invasion. And he gives us examples of each. Those presidents who take bribes become filthy rich, like Marcos of the Philippines, Noriega in Panama. By contrast, Mossadegh was deposed as Prime Minister of Iran by an American coup in 1953. In 1954 President Arbenz of Guatemala was removed from office by an American orchestrated uprising.

According to Perkins, the Presidents of Panama and Ecuador were assassinated by plane bombs because they refused to cooperate.

It seems obvious that if you want to be able to control the policies of a country, make sure that that country has either a monarch, a president, or a prime minister. These are all individuals subject to bribes, threats, coups, non-elections, and assassinations. And they, in turn, can exert bribes, threats, and assassinations.

What is the alternative?

In the US we have the Supreme Court which is composed of nine individuals. We can have a similar arrangement for the executive.
The only country that has eliminated dictators (that is, single rulers) is Switzerland: it has neither a monarch, nor a president, nor a prime minister; instead, it has a Federal Council, consisting of seven individuals. Each is the head of a ministry, but the decisions of each ministry are made by the seven Federal Councilors.

It would also be a great deterrence to corruption not to have either a governor or a mayor, but councils.


See my: All power to councils — not to a President Czar

Two Ukrainian Anarchists: Mykhailo Drahomanov and Nestor Makhno